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Avian Influenza 2022; When Can I Let My Chickens Out?

It’s a long time ago since we announced our hens would have to be kept under cover from 29th November 2021. And now the most common question you are asking is: “When can I let my chickens out?” and “Is Avian Influenza still affecting the UK?”

Since lockdown began we have been in contact with DEFRA, keeping a close eye on when the housing order may be lifted.

    From 00:01 on Monday 2nd May 2022, The UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Christine Middlemiss, has announced that the mandatory housing measures will be lifted.

    We know that everyone is very excited about this news and we can’t wait to see everyone’s hens finally enjoying the sun on their backs again. However, AI cases are still being monitored and prevention zones are still in force in several areas of the UK. Christine Middlemiss has stated, “scrupulous biosecurity remains the most critical form of defence to help keep your birds safe.

    What are the rules? How can I continue to keep my birds safe?

    hens outside in sun

     

    Advice on how to keep your hens safe can also be found on the APHA and DEFRA website, as well as on our dedicated Avian Influenza page and health and welfare post. There are also many examples of what people have done on social media, showing how you can convert sheds, barns and even your conservatory into a safe hen space!

    But here is also a summary of the requirements to keep your hens safe outside:

    • Housing or netting all poultry and captive birds to protect them from the risk of wild bird faeces getting into the run/coop.
    • Cleansing and disinfecting clothing, footwear, equipment and vehicles before and after contact with poultry and captive birds – if practical, use disposable protective clothing.
    • Reducing the movement of people, vehicles or equipment to and from areas where poultry and captive birds are kept, minimise contamination from manure, slurry and other products, and using effective vermin control.
    • keeping fresh disinfectant at the right concentration at all points where people should use it, such as farm entrances and before entering poultry and captive bird housing or enclosures.
    • Minimising direct and indirect contact between poultry and captive birds and wild birds, including making sure all feed and water are not accessible to wild birds.

    What are the rules? How can I keep my birds safe?

    shed for avian influenza

    In order to halt the spread of the disease, the English, Scottish and Welsh governments implemented a compulsory housing order requiring all poultry keepers to implement strict biosecurity measures, and where possible, keep their birds undercover and away from wild birds which may try to share their food and water.

    This housing order is a legal requirement and we encourage all new and experienced keepers to register their hens with DEFRA so that they will receive SMS updates on situations like Avian Influenza. You can register your hens by filling out the voluntary poultry registration form.

    Advice on how to keep your hens safe can also be found on the APHA and DEFRA website, as well as on our dedicated Avian Influenza page and health and welfare post. There are also many examples of what people have done on social media, showing how you can convert sheds, barns and even your conservatory into a safe hen space!

    But here is also a summary of the requirements to keep your hens safe outside:

    • Housing or netting all poultry and captive birds to protect them from the risk of wild bird faeces getting into the run/coop.
    • Cleansing and disinfecting clothing, footwear, equipment and vehicles before and after contact with poultry and captive birds – if practical, use disposable protective clothing.
    • Reducing the movement of people, vehicles or equipment to and from areas where poultry and captive birds are kept, minimise contamination from manure, slurry and other products, and using effective vermin control.
    • keeping fresh disinfectant at the right concentration at all points where people should use it, such as farm entrances and before entering poultry and captive bird housing or enclosures.
    • Minimising direct and indirect contact between poultry and captive birds and wild birds, including making sure all feed and water are not accessible to wild birds

    What are the symptoms to look out for and what do I do if I suspect my hens have avian influenza?

    The main symptoms of HPAI in poultry are depression, loss of appetite, cessation of egg-laying, nervous signs, swelling and blue discolouration of combs and wattles due to disturbance of blood circulation, coughingsneezing and diarrhoea.

    Sudden death can occur without any previous signs.

    Of course, these symptoms can also be seen in many other issues, so getting to the bottom of what is wrong with your hens is vital before assuming that it is Avian Influenza. Once you have confirmed that it is in fact Avian Influenza, you should contact your nearest hen friendly vet who will either visit your hens or advise on what you should do next. This should be reported as Defra also have measures to put in place to reduce the risk of spread. On their website they say:

    “Where avian influenza is confirmed or suspected, we put in place restrictions on movements of birds in the area around the infected premises”

    Sadly, when confirmed, the infected hens are humanly culled. This can be in commercial and domestic settings.

    What do I do if I see other keepers not complying with the rules?

    Another question that we get asked is what to do when people see other hen keepers not complying with the housing order rules. Maybe you have a neighbour who is still letting their hens roam freely, or you visit an allotment where hens aren’t being kept undercover. What should you do?

    Sometimes just approaching said neighbour and making sure they are aware of the situation is the best thing to do. You can always guide them to our website to show them the importance of keeping hens undercover right now.

    Of course, if they are aware and still do nothing about it, Avian influenza controls are enforced by your local authorities, so contacting your local council is the best way to deal with the situation.

    Is there a date for the housing order to end?

    As of right now, there is still no certain date as to when we will be able to let our chickens out. There are still cases being monitored and prevention zones are still in force in many areas of the UK.

    We must be concerned about the danger of the highly pathogenic strain becoming endemic in the domestic non-migratory wild bird population, which would give the disease a permanent foothold in the country. This would mean that AI would no longer be tied to the waterfowl migration season and instead be here permanently.

    It remains to be seen how this would impact domestic pet hen keepers and the industry as a whole, but if this were to happen it would seriously affect the way we rehome hens across the UK.

    If you’d like advice on your hen’s health, why not visit our Hen Health page, where we discuss important things to look for in your hen’s health, whether its personality or physical symptoms. Or, head to our Hen Examination Guidelines where we can show you where to find things like the crop or the wattle.

    If you need to seek medical advice, click here to find your nearest Hen Friendly Vet.
    You can also call Hen Central on 01884 860084 to speak to one of our rehoming assistants.

    Giving a gift today helps fund our Hen Helpline. It helps support hen keepers, giving them the best advice on how to care for their hens. If you have found our advice helpful, please consider giving a gift towards the hen helpline here.

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